Jubilant songs of praise, dance and oratory electrified the atmosphere at Highland Baptist Church recently as the Interested Citizens for Voter Registration held its KingFest Gospel Youth Extravaganza.
The theme for the event, part of a weeklong celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was “Mentor A Child; Save A Life.” Attracting a crowd of more than 600 people anticipating the evening’s festivities, the church quickly filled to capacity.
“I’m looking forward to this,” said Jefferson County Judge Dutch King as he took his seat. “This is important, this is history.” Referring to Dr. King, King said, “He turned things around and opened a lot of eyes.”
The program, with a focus on highlighting youth, opened with a stirring invocation by mistress of ceremony,Victoria Smith, and a devotional song, “Jesus Is On The Main Line” by Christopher Barnes.
In keeping with the theme of mentorship, Rev. Jesse C. Turner, executive director of ICVR, gave a brief overview of Pen or Pencil, a mentoring initiative connecting the link between educational experiences and delinquency.
“Pen stands for penitentiary and pencil stands for education,” Turner said. Pointing out the large number of young people participating in the youth extravaganza, Turner said, “not all our young people are out committing crimes.” He urged adults to consider becoming mentors, working to steer youth in the right direction.
Following Turner’s appeal, youth from various churches and groups showcased their array of talents. In a special tribute, Maleek Ware of First Missionary Baptist Church received a standing ovation for his passionate delivery of King’s renowned “I Have A Dream” speech.
Miss University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Alexis Cole performed a saxophone solo of “Praise Is What I Do”, followed by a Styled-To-Perfection fashion show, aimed at building confidence and self-esteem for all participants, regardless of contribution. The mistress of ceremony encouraged the models with, “All can’t sing, all can’t dance, but all can walk.”
Lennon Walker, a Pine Bluff resident, said he appreciated the event because “we have to support our young people, they really are our future.”
Congregational singing of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” preceded final remarks and thanks by Bessie Lancelin, chairwoman and adviser for the event.
Event coordinators were Jamal Gordon, Deaquanita Lancelin, Jerron Liddell and Kentra Jackson.